Spicy toasted sesame tofu dressing on a slaw salad.

April is National Soyfoods Month! Celebrate with this tasty salad dressing (recipe is available at the bottom of this story) or your other favorite soyfoods. (Iowa Soybean Association)

Celebrating Soyfoods Month: We’re eating more soy

April 22, 2021

As more Americans make the plunge into plant proteins, they’re including more soyfoods at mealtime, from energy bars to soy milk. The momentum shows no signs slowing down.

“Our message is getting out there about how great soy protein is,” says April Hemmes, who farms near Hampton and serves as a district 2 director for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). “Soy is becoming more relevant than ever, especially with people’s increased interest in plant-based diets.”

Soy’s “health halo” continues to grow, according to the Food Industry Insights (FII) “Consumer Attitudes about Soyfoods and Health” 26th annual survey, which reveals Americans’ attitudes about diet, fats, oils and purchase drivers. The survey, which was released this spring, reveals 74% of consumers view soyfoods as healthy.

Soy, which has been a traditional food in Asian diets for centuries, provides high-quality protein, along with fiber, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins.

Why are Americans eating more soy? Five key factors include:

    1. Desire to eat more healthfully
    2. Abundance of new soyfoods
    3. Ethnic population growth
    4. Interest in sustainable foods
    5. Popularity among millennials
  • Young people’s interest in soyfoods continues to grow. More than two-thirds (68%) of 18-to-34-year-olds report eating soy, according to the FII survey.

    Biotech is no longer a flashpoint

    What about biotech concerns? More than half (57%) of consumers view biotechnology as positive or neutral, according to the FII study. Only 1 in 10 cite genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) as a barrier to ever eating soy. Among the top reasons consumers support biotech include:

    • Larger crop yields to support growing populations
    • Healthier food
    • Increased nutritional value

    “The younger consumers I’ve talked with have done their research on biotech and GMOs, and they accept this technology,” says Hemmes, who has been raising GMO soybeans and corn for more than 20 years.

    New biotech soybean varieties will provide trans fat solutions in food production, as well as reducing saturated fat, added the IFF study.

    Consumers are eating more soy, more often

    While a majority of consumers (82%) have tried soyfoods, more are consuming these foods on a regular basis. Significantly more consumers report eating soy in the last 10 years. Roughly two-thirds (64%) reported eating soyfoods in 2011. This rose to 74% by 2019.

    Top soy food picks include energy bars (No. 1), soymilk, edamame, soy veggie burgers, tofu and meat alternatives. Among consumers who have tried a soy product, 61% eat at least one of the products regularly, according to the FII survey.

    “When I consume soyfoods, it might include a breakfast bar,” Hemmes says. “I also list pork and poultry as food with a soy component, since the majority of soy produced in this country goes to the livestock feed industry.”

    Sharing the soy oil success story

    When do people tend to consume soyfoods and beverages? Mostly at dinner (38%), but also breakfast (32%), lunch (29%), and afternoon snacks (22%), according to the FII study. In addition, more people are consuming soyfoods or beverages once a week or more, up from 27% of consumers in 2012 to 35% in 2019.

    More than half of consumers surveyed (54%) seek food products containing soy. Many consumers already depend on soy as one of their most-used cooking oils, and they may not even know it.

    “If you buy a cooking oil labeled as vegetable oil, it’s often soybean oil,” says Hemmes.

    A majority (62%) of consumers are more likely to purchase soybean oil if it’s labeled as “heart healthy.” In addition, 42% of consumers are aware of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved heart health claim, which says consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

    A majority (66%) of consumers with both awareness and opinion on the healthfulness of soybean oil rate it as “healthy.” That’s on par with canola, safflower and sunflower oils. Interestingly, 81% of consumers are “more likely” or “would make no difference” to purchase vegetable oil labeled as 100% U.S. grown soybean oil, according to the FII study.

    Consumers aren’t just focused on home cooking. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of consumers are interested in the type of oils used in restaurants. The majority say they would be more likely to eat at restaurants using oils lower in saturated and trans fats.

    A majority (65%) of consumers are also willing to pay more for healthier foods.

    “Generation and generation, Americans want to eat healthfully, and they are willing to pay more for better-for-you foods, like soy,” reports the FII study. “A complete protein, soy proves an ideal choice year over year—a boon for product development and dietary recommendations.”

    Soy farming equals sustainable farming

    Food isn’t the only thing on consumers’ minds when they think soy. Consumers also care about the land. A majority (73%) of consumers who are familiar with the term “sustainable farming” say eating soyfoods produced by sustainable practices is important to them, according to the FII survey. In addition, 77% of consumers believe in supporting domestic agriculture by buying foods produced with crops grown by U.S. farmers.

    “Like many farmers, I’m focused on healthy soils, a healthy environment and healthy foods,” says Hemmes, who serves on the United Soybean Board and the Soy Nutrition Institute Board. “U.S. soybean growers have a great story to tell. The more we can get the positives of soyfoods and soy production to consumers, the better.”

    Source: Iowa Food & Family Project's Fresh Pickings magazine. Click the image to read more or enlarge.

    Editor's Note: Stay tuned as we showcase the perfect pair to soyfoods: animal protein! April is also Meat on the Table Month in Iowa.